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Whales, Toilets and Tree Huggers

Stories from a Blue Planet: Bob Kihslinger

tree hugger
Wix Photo

Where did the term "Tree Hugger" come from?

I got to thinking about the term "tree-hugger" and wondered where it came from. I had supposed it was obvious. People who love the environment were mocked by this moniker just like Packer fans who are called “cheeseheads”. But Packer fans loved it and so do most tree huggers. I’m one myself and proud of it.

Then I found out that there was a more compelling story behind the term. It comes from India in the year 1730. People of the Bishnois branch of Hinduism defended trees that were being destroyed by the thousands in western India. They understood the importance of trees to the environment and were determined to protect them and their village. So, they clung to the trees. In a short time 294 men and 69 women were slaughtered by the foresters.

In the aftermath a moratorium was declared on tree felling in the Himalayan region. In India this tactic of passive resistence is called Satyagraha. Here we refer to it factiously as, tree hugging. There’s more to the story.

Whale pod
Wix Photo

Can Whales Fix Climate Change?

During the past few years, I’ve read about dozens of schemes to capture and sequester carbon emissions. Yesterday I read one of the most intriguing. Let’s let the whales do it.

It seems that whales sequester 33 tons of CO2 on average, and they take it out of the atmosphere for centuries because when they die it all goes to the bottom of the ocean. A tree only absorbs about 48 pounds of CO2 a year. Not only that, but we have now found out that not only do whales eat plankton but stimulate plankton population with their bodily waste. Plankton contributes 50 of all oxygen to the atmosphere and captures 40% of all CO2 produced. This is big stuff.

The problem is that we have reduced the whale population to a quarter of what it once was. If we returned the whale numbers to 4 or 5 million instead of the 1.3 million we have left, the impact would be staggering. Not only would we sequester 33 tons of carbon times 5 million but the impact on plankton could increase carbon capture by hundreds of millions of tons. That’s the equivalent of two billion mature trees.

Getting this done, however, would require the kind of global cooperation we have yet to demonstrate. Still, it is an intriguing proposition. The International Monetary Fund has done a great job explaining the whole ‘whale thing’ with photos and infographics.

photo of toilet

Are you willing to drink your toilet water?

The term ‘toilet to tap’ refers to the recycling of wastewater for human consumption. Ugh! This isn’t new idea. It has been done in Orange County, California for years and in places like Singapore and Israel for decades. The emergence of sustained drought due to climate change is forcing us to consider all ways to conserve and reuse our water supply.

How is it done? Wastewater (and sea water) is pumped through reverse-osmosis membranes. The technology removes “particles, viruses, pathogens, hormone-disrupting chemicals and salt”. It is said to be “pure and delicious” and certainly as good if not better than any bottled water you currently purchase.

So, get ready! Toilet-to-tap is probably coming to a town near you in the near future.


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